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entirely on hearsay testimony, on words which Sir John Blunt said that Knight had said to him: there was collateral evidence to shake it; and the character of Blunt himself was that of a dishonest, and now ruined and desperate man. It is also remarkable that Sunderland had in fact lost considerably by the South Sea Scheme, and that one of his bitterest enemies then accused him, not of having confederated with the Directors, but of being their dupe and victim.* So strong seemed these considerations, that a large majority (233 against 172) declared the Minister innocent. But, notwithstanding this acquittal, the popular ferment was too strong for Sunderland to continue at the head of the Treasury: he resigned, and was succeeded by Walpole. His influence at Court, however, still continued; and he obtained the appointment of Lord Carteret in the room of Secretary Craggs.
The South Sea Directors, on the other hand, were treated as a body, and with no measured severity. Amongst them was Mr. Gibbon, grandfather of the great historian, who has raised his eloquent voice against the oppressions of that period. They were disabled from ever holding any place or sitting in Parliament; and their estates, amounting altogether to above two millions sterling, were confiscated for the relief of the South Sea sufferers. Even the small allowance voted to each Director was often embittered by insult, or diminished by enmity. Sometimes an allowance of one shilling, or of twenty pounds, was jestingly moved. A rough answer of one Director at the Treasury many months before was rancorously quoted against him. Another, it seems, had been foolish enough to boast that his horses should feed on gold: a facetious member observed that he might now feed on it himself, and should have just as much gold as he could eat, and no more!
If we blame the conduct of Parliament towards these unhappy men, we shall find that their contemporaries
lso complained of it. But it was for the exactly opposite reason! We may think such proceedings harsh and
* Mr. Brodrick to Lord Midleton, Sept. 27. 1720
cruel; they thought them shamefully lenient. Petitions had been pouring in from all parts of the country praying for “ condign punishment” on these “monsters of “ pride and covetousness”—“ the Cannibals of Change “ Alley”-“ the infamous betrayers of their country!" One worthy representative laments the sad grievance that after all there will be nobody's blood shed!* And in pamphlets of the day I read such expressions as—“If “ you ask what, monsters: as they are, should be done “ with them? the answer is short and easy- Hang “ them! for whatever they deserve, I would have no new “ tortures invented, nor any new deaths devised. In
this, I think, I show moderation. Let them only be “hanged, but hanged speedily!" +
This general exasperation and disappointment made the House of Commons more chary than had been usual with them in voting the Supplies. When a King's message was sent down asking for a subsidy of 72,0001. to Sweden, it was warmly opposed by many members, especially Lord Molesworth, who went into the whole state of Northern politics. He said that obtaining naval stores was the main advantage we reaped from our trade in the Baltic;
that he owned hemp was a very necessary commodity, especially at this juncture (a remark which produced a general laugh), but that in his opinion we might be supplied more cheaply from our plantations in America. Nevertheless the subsidy was carried.
The great object of Walpole was now the restoration of Public Credit. In addition to the measure formerly mentioned, and in fact as superseding it, he now proposed a fresh Bill, which met with the concurrence of both Houses. Of the seven millions and a half, which the South Sea Directors had agreed to pay the public, he remitted more than five, and on their incessant complaints the other two also were afterwards yielded. The forfeited estates served partly to clear their encumbrances; the credit of their bonds was maintained ; and 33 per cent. of the capital was paid to the proprietors; and thus as far as possible was justice done to all parties, and the
* Mr. St. John Brodrick to Lord Midleton, May 24. 1721.
ill effect of the late calamity retrieved. Many proprietors, however, of the redeemable annuities were highly dissatisfied ; on one occasion they thronged into the lobby, tumultuously calling on each member as he passed, and holding out a paper with the words -“ Pray do “ justice to the Annuitants who lent their money on “ Parliamentary security !” It was found necessary to read the Riot Act, and difficult to disperse the crowd, many of them exclaiming as they went, “You first pick “our pockets, and then send us to gaol for complaining!”
Nor did the motives and conduct of Walpole escape censure; he was long afterwards accused in the Craftsman of having made a collusive bargain with the Bank, and concerted his public measures with a view to his personal enrichment. Coxe frankly owns that he will not attempt to justify Sir Robert in every particular of these transactions*; but to the main facts his defence seems quite satisfactory, and the Minister quite innocent; nor should it ever be forgotten, to the honour of Walpole, that he stepped forward at a most perilous and perplexing crisis, and that it was he who stood between the people and bankruptcy, between the King and sedition.
Throughout all these transactions there is nothing more remarkable than the national despondency and common forebodings of disasters for the future. For forty years after the accession of the House of Hanover our liberties were constantly pronounced on the very brink of extinction. After the South Sea year the country no less resounded with prophecies of “ a sinking state” and “irre6 trievable ruin." Yet how little in either case has the event tallied with the expectation! If our Constitution has changed, it has certainly not been from any diminution of popular control. If our Commerce has changed, it has only been by swelling to a size and extent such as our forefathers, in their wildest speculations, never dreamed. Were it not beneath the dignity of History, I might indulge a conjecture, what would have been the feelings of Walpole or of Stanhope, had he some morning,
- at breakfast perhaps — been thus addressed by a projector or a prophet: “With that vapour which you see
* Memoirs, vol. i. p. 158.
rising from the tea-urn will I do the work of hundreds “ of thousands of men.-I will ride without horses.-I “ will sail against wind and tide. I will carry
heavier “ burthens than the camel, and yet my speed shall be “ swifter than the bird's! With another such vapour “ will I fill vast globes, which you shall see arise from “ the earth, and bear men up into the bosom of the clouds! “ With these and other such discoveries, shall you attain “ a new era of wealth, prosperity, and knowledge. Cul“ tivation shall spread beyond the fruitful valleys, up “ into the chalk or clay, and drive sterility to the very “ summits of the bleakest fells! The single towns of “ Liverpool and Manchester shall engross more trade and “ business than now the whole of England. You shall “ have a hundred millions of Indians for your subjects. “ Your yearly revenue shall be greater than the whole “principal of your present, which you call enormous and “ intolerable debt." Had any seer thus spoken, would the Minister have withheld his indignation from the audacious impostor, or would not Bedlam have received
poor deluded wretch ? Yet have all these things been fulfilled to the letter, and the widest prospect of national wealth, which the South Sea Directors ever held out in the very hey-day of their hopes, has been far — very far – outstripped by the reality!
But should these mighty changes afford us unmixed exultation ? Have not the tares grown up thickly with the corn? The frightful abuses of the Factory System perhaps also the necessary evils of that system under any regulation, have raised up gaunt poverty side by side with overgrown wealth - - a race of men bound to their superiors by no other tie than wages and hire mutual and hereditary feelings of kindness — too rarely either provident in prosperity or patient in distress. Instead of the healthy and invigorating pursuits of agriculture, their unwholesome labours often tend only to dwarf the body and depress the mind. Behold in the pale and blear-eyed mechanic, in the feverish and stunted factory child, the descendants of the hardy and joyous English yeomen! No longer dwelling on the free hillside, but cooped up in noisome dens and wrapt in the smoke of a thousand manufactories, the sun and air that come to all, come not to them. Ready to sell their skill to the highest bidder, they are transferred without care and reflection from master to master, and from mill to mill. To their ever-growing numbers the religious provision of the Church has proved utterly inadequate, and in some cases their want of spiritual food has been supplied by the rankest poison. Through the kind exertions of agitators they have sometimes been made to read just enough to see objections against all religion and all government, and not enough to see those objections triumphantly refuted. God forbid that this description should apply to all! But does it not apply to more than a few ? And is such a state of things free from grievous misery? Is it free from appalling danger?
The South Sea Scheme, and the consequent exasperation throughout the country, seemed to render a Dissolution of Parliament a most perilous venture, and yet its septennial period was near at hand. Hence was suggested a remedy far worse than the danger an idea of obtaining another special prolongation of the term; and it is said that of the King's chief advisers, this idea was opposed by Sunderland, but advised by Walpole. This is reported by Mr. St. John Brodrick*, nephew to Lord Midleton, who had just, as he tells us, carried his election at Beralston through Walpole's influence, and was not therefore likely to misrepresent his opinions; yet it seems Qifficult to believe that so cool and cautious à statesman should have supported this violent and unconstitutional scheme. Be this as it may, the scheme, if ever entertained, was soon relinquished ; the Parliament met again for a very short and unimportant Session, in the winter of 1721, and was dissolved in the March following. The country was then restored to quiet, and the new elections, like the last, gave a large and overwhelming majority to the party in power.
In less than three weeks after the elections, on the 19th of April, died the Earl of Sunderland, so suddenly that poison was rumoured, but his body being opened the surgeons discovered a disease in the heart.† His cha
* To Lord Midleton, June 10. 1721. Lord Orrery repeats a report to just the contrary effect, Oct. 28. 1721. See Appendix.
† See the medical certificate in Boyer's Polit. State, vol. xxii.